Practical learning: achieving excellence in the human services

January 23-25 2008 Edinburgh International Conference Centre

Growing research in practice - messages for social work education

Keywords: Social work education, Practitioner research

Authors: Mr Phil Harington (University of Auckland); Ms Liz Beddoe (University of Auckland)

Preparatory education for social work routinely includes time spent learning about research, although this varies widely according to the duration and academic level of the programme. In spite of this preparation, once practising, social workers concentrate on the 'prime tasks' of work at the front line. We suggest that social workers enter a world where they no longer have to write scholastically, undertake critique of practice, utilise theory or conduct research. They do not see these tasks as integral to 'doing social work' and yet their work is located in contested ground. Practitioners often lack confidence to engage in scholarship and research and when these disciplines fall into disuse there remains little room for reflexive considerations. This paper reflects on an innovative programme which explored the challenge of raising the research capability and confidence of groups of practitioners in a range of social work settings in Auckland, New Zealand. The authors were members of a team providing mentoring to participating practitioner teams whose projects took place within their work settings. Qualitative data with practitioner-researchers were collected via individual and group interviews, from recorded discussions and debriefing activities and from our own field notes. The data indicate considerable enthusiasm for practice research despite the challenges of time, knowledge and resources, but suggest that building research capability and confidence requires several strategies. The collaborative process trialled in this project appears to have potential but raises questions about the messages given in pre-service education concerning scholarly aspects of social work. How, therefore, might social work educators instil the belief that research skills are as important for good practice as are interviewing and assessment? Some suggestions for preparatory and continuing education are presented for further discussion within the profession.

Research mindedness should be integral to effective social work practice. Professional registration, continuing education requirements and degree level preparation all demonstrate impetus to raise the bar in social work but many current practitioners feel de-skilled. This presentation of a multi-faceted research project will be of interest to educators, practitioners and students.

Date: Thursday 24 January 2008, 12.00-12.30

Venue: Ochil One

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Organised by the Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services in association with PEPE (Practical Experiences in Professional Education).